"Caught in the rage, in the fire of things
All the brightness that burns me
I'm fumbling through like a child in the dark
When the nakedness comes, I am shocked by the color
The glorious weight of your skin..."
"St. Lawrence River," David Usher
We are creatures of habit. The wiser of us can learn from our mistakes, but more often than not, our natures make it so we return to the thing that hurts us the most. Because it is the thing we want the most.
Was it habit then that allowed me to allow what was happening, happen? Habit that consumes me as strongly as lust when I hear the lightest footsteps on the plush carpet, cross the room, towards my bed. Habit that makes me moan your name and cling on to your slick flushed body in the night. Reaching out, groping blindly in the darkness for someone I cannot see even in the light. Habit that makes me want to take your hands and press them to my lips, memorizing their shape and feel against my mouth. The warmth of your body is the fire that mocks the sun.
I was scared and shocked that first night. Scared and shocked, and a million other meaningless words that come not even close to describing what came surging out into my blood from some dark place within my body. Halfway to dreaming when warm hands slid over my chest and when I made to yell I felt a finger over my lips, warm breath puff over my face.
"Just close your eyes."
And I did. Doing what I was told was something that came naturally to me, even from back when I was a child. I fear some world-shattering consequence if I didn't. And then, as Skinner pushed me down, I could feel the familiarity sinking in. I didn't fight it. It was a habit.
"You're a hero," I said. You laughed and it sounded like your throat was charred too.
"I don't think so," you said, gasping in pain as I rubbed the lotion over your burnt parts. I could only imagine the pain you were in, your face and arms and back and legs. Burned into visibility.
"I think Mr. Sawyer would tell you otherwise," I chuckled, wrapping the linen over your forearm. What a strange sensation it was, spinning bandages over empty air and having them take on solid form. "Such a noble thing to do."
"And I'll never do it again," you laughed. Then coughed and I could hear what sounded like your dried lungs rattling inside of your chest.
"Rest now," I said, touching your face, careful not to come into contact with the burns there. "I'll finish this up and check on you later."
"Thank you, doctor," you breathed.
"Henry," I said. "Call me Henry."
Your eyes were closed, I presume. I could hear the steady rise and fall of your breath, the easy pattern of the deeply asleep. Your limbs pressed with aloe and wrapped up, but I could still smell the scent of burning flesh and I felt my stomach turn over. But I also wanted to press your mouth against my mouth. Wanted to hold the balls of your shoulders like I was about to crush them into splinters.
I made a mistake then. Of kissing you in your helplessness -- just a brush of skin before my conscience sunk in and made me turn away. I fled to my room and wept.
You have scorched your mark onto my skin. My shoulders, my arms. Your smell all over me. The bruising between my legs are proof enough that you are real, and I am real, and those nights are not dreams. Who taught you to write with blood on my back?
He laughs at me. My demon. He laughs and laughs, taunts me and asks again and again why. Why do you let it happen, Henry? What good it is to you? Perhaps it is because for once I feel as though I am needed, although I am just being used. Your hands would roam over my broken body and I would arch into your invisible touch. You'd kiss my lips and I'd kiss back. I'd scream your name in pleasure as you entered me and pounded me into oblivion into the matress, murmuring obscenities about god -- it is during sex that even the most unbelieving find religion -- and it would be the only words you'd say. Nothing else was ever said. Then warmth would explode throughout my body, we'd clear that precipice where ecstacy lay just within our reach, and then you'd take my face in your hands and kiss me, then leave.
I never opened my eyes during those nights of love-making. Or sex. Or fucking. That was all it was to you. Fucking. I never opened my eyes because I didn't want to see what I couldn't see anyway. Not your face contorted in pleasure. Not your form twisted with mine, so much that I wouldn't have been able to see where one ended and the other began.
Let me out, Edward begged me. I'll teach him to come into my room at night.
I had no wish to possess you, but I wanted you to possess me. Consume me. Make me forget, kiss away my pain, even if it was nothing other than physical gratification for you. It was fire like the elixier, but undeniably more pleasurable.
I didn't answer Edward. I was afraid of the answer. A lie that would have been bad, or the truth that would have been worse.
Then, one night, I came into my room after dinner to find you standing over my desk, in your hat and coat.
You looked up. "Doctor." You still refused to call me Henry, as though it was some sort of forbidden word you could not utter. Like the magic of whatever it was happen between us would be undone if you acknowledged it.
With purposeful strides you crossed the room and touched my face before placing your lips over my own. I never tired of your kisses, the way you'd explore my mouth with your curious tongue and gently bite my lips in that way that made my legs weak. Your hand behind my head and our bodies pressed flush against each other's. They moved to my jaw, to my neck, as you pushed me against the door. I could feel my heart racing, in time with my head that was a swirl of mad thoughts and Edward laughing. I learned to ignore him in times like those, paying attention only to your hands as they roamed over my back and shoulders, sending electric signals over my skin.
But something was wrong. I could feel it. A kind of sorrow, then, that I could smell.
"What's wrong?" I pleaded, but you wouldn't answer me. "Skinner..."
But for once, the need to obey did not course through me and I held you away, an arm's length from my body when all I wanted to do was press you to me until our bones rubbed away into dust.
You stopped. Your hands, branding irons, still, unmoving, on my waist and I could imagine your face shocked and afraid.
That's what did it, isn't it? That's what made you leave.
"I can't stay here anymore," you whispered. "I'm sorry."
Stay with me, I begged silently. I reached into your coat pocket and felt for the tin of paint inside. Stay with me.
You watched as I opened it and spread the whiteness on my hand. I made to touch your cheek, but for a moment you pulled away, as though ashamed of yourself and not wanting me to see what you looked beneath the invisibility. But then you didn't move as I slowly covered first your cheek, your temple, forehead, nose, chin... until I could see your head hovering above empty air in front of mine.
"Stay with me." I didn't recognize the voice passing through my own lips. It was breathy and sad. Was the exquisite pain running through me then, love?
Your head and neck. Your bare shoulders. All in the light. I smeared the paint over your chest, stomach, arms. That was enough for me. I could marvel at the beauty of your body. The coldness of the paint absorbing the heat of your skin. All the while, your fingers snaked down from my waist to the front of my shirt, unbuttoning it as though every movement caused you pain. It slid off me like a silken robe and soon I was as naked as you, and we were ravenous, consuming, devouring each other and I could taste the paint in my mouth but I could also taste you and feel you and see you as you pushed me onto the bed. All magic we believed in becoming madness.
That night I dreamed of you, fully visible. Your skin was covered in burn scars. But you were happy. Smiling. You said, I'm not invisible anymore, but when I reached out for you, you were gone.
You thought I was asleep, I suppose. Just like that night almost a year ago when I thought you were asleep. I could feel your fingers touching my face, lips brushing over mine, but when I heard, "goodbye, Henry," I could no longer feign unconsciousness. I did not want to lose what was my ode to obsession. A drug, an addiction, a lover. I didn't want to lose someone I had come to love so much that it hurt to love him at all.
I jerked up but the door had already shut behind you, and your footsteps were fading away, a dying echo, a sound that still haunts me, and you were gone.